Happy 70th Birthday, Alice Walker!

Alice Walker’s 70th birthday was this past Sunday. Her writings only saved my life. I first got into her work when The Color Purple movie came out. This was right after my grandmother passed away. That movie was the only thing that pulled me out of that funk. “You took my sister Nettie ‘way from me. You knew she was the only somebody who loved me…” Whoa! Celie was speaking my grief. Ma ki da da.

Through the movie, I was introduced to the novel and, in essence, the world of African-American women’s literature. So um, this blog you’re reading right now? Thank you, Alice Walker.

I’ve kinda been in Ms. Walker’s presence at least 3 times in my life. The first was a book signing in Brooklyn for the Possessing The Secret of Joy release where they rushed us past her. (Boo!) Then she stayed in the guest rooms in my dorm during my freshwoman year at Spelman College, but we never saw her. We tried though. Like casually hanging out by the door to her hallway tried until some staff member ran us off. But those instances were teasers really. It’s the third encounter that matters.

I was finishing up my lunch at Whole Foods in midtown Atlanta. I look up and see Alice Walker walking toward the restroom. My first reaction was “WTF!” And my second reaction was “Oh, no!” You see, I had to go to the bathroom too. And there was no way that I was going to be one of those rude fans who slides pen and paper under the stall door while a celebrity was trying to handle their business. And I didn’t want to miss her if she left while I was handling mine. Besides, I already had her autograph (reference my Alice Walker encounter #1).

Well, I really had to go. So I went. And she washed her hands and left out before I was done. Oh no! Foiled by the elusive Ms. Walker again. I washed my hands and went back into the store. By now, I was gonna be late if I didn’t start heading back to work. But eff that. This woman’s work only had a major influence on the person I have become, right? So I look around. She was talking to her companion and was about to push her cart into the main part of the store.

I gently tapped her on the back. She turned and I… Well, what do you say to Alice Walker when you unexpectedly bump into her at the grocery store? I came up with pure brilliance in that split second, if I do say so myself.

“Excuse me, Ms. Walker. I don’t mean to bother you. I just wanted to say thank you.”

Alice Walker’s response was to open her arms and say “Give me a hug.” She wrapped her arms around me. And I turned into a babbling idiot. “Oh my god. I don’t want to bother you. Your writings mean so much to me. I started writing because of you. Blah blah blah…” And then I think I sobbed. Nooooo!

By then the dreadlocked stock girl was looking at us funny. Causing a scene was the last thing I wanted to do. I could easily the berries & juices folk mobbing this poor woman while she tried to do her grocery shopping. I quickly gained my composure and said my goodbyes. But when I stepped out into the parking lot? I. Started. To. (Gasp). Cry.

I was such a mess. I returned to the hair salon/spa where I was working – hella late – in a daze.

“What’s wrong with you, Kaia?”

“I just bumped into Alice Walker. She hugged me.”

“Who’s Alice Walker?” My co-workers were total buzzkills that day.

And that, my friends, is my “I Bumped Into Alice Walker at Whole Foods” story.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Walker. I’ll never stop saying thank you.

Now go read The Color Purple. Followed by The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (in that order). And the essay “Looking For Zora.” That is all.

Note: The documentary “Alice Walker” Beauty in Truth” is currently showing as part of the PBS series “American Masters.” Check your local listings for broadcast times.

Heads Up, Writers
Carina Press editor Rhonda Helms said on Twitter this last week that she is “desperate” for PoC (people of color) historical romances, from 1850s on. She’ll look at any heat level from sweet to super spicy. So please finish writing your African-American historical romances and send them to her.

Gwen Hayes at the historical imprint Scandalous at Entangled Publishing is also look for PoC historical romances.

What I’m Reading Now
I’m still on my African-American educational history kick.  I’m currently reading The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 by James D. Anderson. I’ll do a write up on it once I’m finished. But so far it’s been both an eye-opener and a pissed-me-offer.

Until next week,
Kaia

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Do It Revolutionary Style

Brownie Harris/FOX

Brownie Harris/FOX

The Revolutionary War and the Colonial era in general have been on my mind lately. First, the new Fox show Sleepy Hollow debuted a few weeks ago. This delicious supernatural thriller, inspired by Washington Irving’s classic Headless Horseman tale, feels like a brand new horror flick each week. And I hate horror flicks. But the story lines make it so hard for me to stay away each Monday night. The flashbacks to the Colonial era and the Revolutionary War set my historical geek heart a-flutter. Then, there’s Nicole Beharie playing the lead character Abbie Mills. I absolutely adored her in the film 42, where she portrayed Jackie Robinson’s wife Rachel. I can’t wait to see how the sparks flying between Abbie and Ichabad Crane will play out in the long run.

Then, I read the novel Her Wicked Sin by Sarah Ballance a few weeks ago. (Yes, I purchased it.) When I saw that this historical romance was set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, I couldn’t download it fast enough. This author’s use of dialogue to establish the historical setting was awesome. I thought the first half of the book read like a dream. But when the heroine Lydia mentioned Tituba in the text, bells went off in my head: there are some African-American romances and women’s fiction set during this time period too! Let’s talk about them. (Yes, I purchased all of these books too.)

Midnight by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 978-0061547805
midnightThis historical romance novel is set in New England during the American Revolutionary War. It is based on the real life female spy Lady Midnight, who provided crucial information to help Colonists. Lady Midnight’s true identity was so well hidden back then that nobody can say for certain who she really was. So Beverly Jenkins figured that meant Lady Midnight could have been African-American and proceeded to write Midnight.

 

 

 

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 0-345-38420-2
titubaIf you are familiar with Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, then you already know something about the real life Salem Witch Trials and the enslaved woman Tituba who was one of the accused witches. But did you that there was also a retelling of the story written from Tituba’s perspective? Thanks to Maryse Conde (and to her husband Richard Philcox, who translated the original text from French to English) there is. This was one of the very first books I was assigned to read in college. It blew my mind. It is more literary women’s fiction. However, there is a bit of romance in the very beginning of the story. It is worth the read. The hero left a strong impression all those years ago. My classmates and I all wanted to know where we could find a man like that.

 

Windward Heights by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 1-56947-216-5
winward_heightsI can’t talk about Maryse Conde and I, Tituba without mentioning Windward Heights. It starts in the middle of the Cuban War of Independence, right before the United States entered the fight. In the United States, we know these hostilities as the Spanish-American War. (Yeah, I know that was in 1898. But it’s still colonists fighting for their independence from another country, right?) This book is about a low-born man who returns to his childhood home, only to find that the girl he loved in his youth is married to the rich guy who lived next door. Sounds a lot like Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is. Windward Heights IS Wuthering Heights, except that it’s set in the late 19th and early 20th century Caribbean, Heathcliff is African and Cathy is a mulatto. Intrigued yet? Good, go read it. (For the record, I hated Wuthering Heights and, to this day, have yet to finish the book. But I loved Windward Heights. Like a lot “loved it”.)

Have you already read any of these books? What did you think of them? Are there any Revolutionary War or Colonial era African-American romances or women’s fiction titles that I missed? Please share in the Comments.

 

What I’m Reading
369th_InfantryRight now, I’m working on my own historical romance set in the 1920s. The hero is a World War I veteran who served with the 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hell Fighters. I wanted to know more about the 369th Infantry’s experiences during the Great War since I’m still getting to know this character. Through my internet surfing, I stumbled upon Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I by Stephen L. Harris. Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, this book is soooo good. Not only does Harris give you a detailed account of this Infantry from its beginnings as the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, but you get an unexpected lesson on the early history of jazz in New York City as well as the city’s Draft Riots during the Civil War. My historical geekiness includes all things African-American musical history and the Civil War. I practically drooled as I read about the formation of their military band whose members included James Reese Europe, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. (Hardcore old, old school jazz fans know what I’m talking about.) This book is turning out to be an excellent resource for a number of historical events outside the scope of the Harlem Hell Fighters. I’m only halfway through it right now, but I highly recommend it.